Thursday, March 12, 2015
FOCUS (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, 2015)
In FOCUS seasoned con artist Nicky (Will Smith) knows the tricks of the trade so well that he can easily spot the hustle Jess (Margot Robbie) and her partner try to pull on him in a Manhattan restaurant. Seeing an opportunity to better herself, Jess follows Nicky to New Orleans, where she works to convince him to let her join his den of thieves. After capably proving her skills in a packed French Quarter, Nicky takes her on as an intern with his thirty-person team stealing money, valuables, and identities during Super Bowl week there.
The pleasure of a film about con artists resides in how smoothly it can fool you when you’re already on guard for some narrative chicanery. FOCUS co-writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are adept in keeping attention on the scams at hand so that the bigger design isn’t glimpsed or considered. They do a slick job of tying everything together in a satisfying way without spoiling the surprises and retroactively correcting some third act issues.
Ficarra and Requa are also quite clever in how they use The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” as a cue on the soundtrack. When it first pops up, it seems like a lazy selection in terms of the classic rock song’s overuse and direct comment on the action at hand. A little later on, though, the employment of it is shown as being crucial to the scene in a way that’s essentially invisible to the audience the first time. Using such details in ornamental and pivotal ways provides regular gratification in this fizzy film.
As long as Nicky is grifting, Smith channels the suave movie stars of yesteryear. He’s also a good verbal sparrer with Robbie, but the romance and heat that is supposed to exist between Nicky and Jess isn’t especially convincing. Smith displays some of the Cary Grant comedic lightness called for in the part, but he seems too invested in work to get distracted by Robbie’s harder edged Grace Kelly. Robbie gives the more varied performance as she adapts to the situations. It’s a potentially star-making turn in a film that hasn’t enjoyed the kind of success to push her to that level.